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186                                                                                                 B- POLEVOI
he refused a stretcher and walked down the stairs to
take his treatments and then walked up again. Tears
were rolling down his face, but he kept on, and even
bawled at the orderly who wanted to help him. And you
should have seen his smile when he reached the landmg
unaided! You'd think he had climbed Mount Elbrus."
Gvozdev turned away from the mirror and watched
Meresyev hobbling rapidly on his crutches. "Look at
him! Actually running! And what a nice, fine face he
has! A small scar across the eyebrow, but it doesn't spoil
his looks a bit, rather an improvement, in fact." If only
he, Gvozdev, had a face like that. What's feet? You can't
see feet. And of course, he'll learn to walk, and to fly!
But your face! You can't hide an apparition like this,
which looks as if drunken devils had threshed peas on
it at night.
Alexei Meresyev was on his twenty-third lap along the
corridor during his afternoon exercise. All over his tired
body he felt the burning of his swollen thighs and the
aching of his shoulders from the pads of his crutches. As
he hobbled along he cast a sidelong glance at the tank-
man standing at the mirror. "Funny chap!" he thought
to himself. "What's he worrying over his face for? He
will never be a cinema star now, of course. But a tank-
man. What's to stop him? Your face doesn't matter, as
long as you've got a sound head, and arms, and legs. Yes,
legs, real legs, not these stumps which hurt and burn as
if the artificial feet were made not of leather but of red-
hot iron."
Tap, tap. Creak, creak. Tap, tap. Creak, creak.
Biting his lips and trying to suppress the tears which,
in spite of himself, were forced to his eyes by the acute
pain, Senior Lieutenant Meresyev with difficulty com-
pleted the twenty-ninth lap along the corridor and finished
his exercise for the day.
14
Grigory Gvozdev left the hospital in the middle of
June.
A day or two before he left he had a long talk with
Alexei. The fact that they were comrades in misfortune